Breathing Earth

What makes German filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer a true poet of the enviro-doc form is that subject selection comes so naturally to him, in the sense that nature itself always is his subject. Riedelsheimer profiles artists whose profound affinities with the natural world he admires and endorses. So it was with Andy Goldsworthy in Rivers and Tides, with Evelyn Glennie in Touch the Sound, and now with Susumu Shingu in Breathing Earth. This septuagenarian Japanese sculptor considers the elements, particularly wind, his lifelong collaborator, and it’s too easy to say his work is breathtaking but too true not to. Here, Riedelsheimer tags along while the affable Shingu seeks a site for an ambitious new project (from which the film takes its name). In Germany he roams with his wife in a moonlike landscape, pretending to float in lighter gravity and gathering sideways looks from unsmiling locals. In Scotland he meets a fellow wind enthusiast who explains that Scotland is the windiest place in Europe. So what’s the big deal about wind anyway? How’s this: “It doesn’t start anywhere. It doesn’t end anywhere. It’s only moving.” The beauty of Breathing Earth is that it so gently articulates the concept of sustainability in both environmental and aesthetic terms. Riedelsheimer doesn’t much go in for save-the-planet urgency, instead putting stock in the grander eloquence of humility, curiosity, empathy, and awe.